Mehdi Taremi’s late overhead kick handed Porto a 1-0 win over the Blues in Tuesday’s quarter-final second leg in Seville but Chelsea reached the last four 2-1 on aggregate.
Croatia midfielder Kovacic suffered a hamstring problem in training on Monday so was a late withdrawal from Chelsea’s Porto showdown, and will also miss Saturday’s Wembley FA Cup battle with Manchester City.
N’Golo Kante stepped up to start as he moved past his own latest hamstring concern, producing a midfield masterclass to draw high praise from manager Tuchel. Chelsea’s German boss will now hope Kante can recover quickly enough to start Saturday’s big FA Cup match.
“It was very sad to see Kova yesterday after 20 minutes in training, to have this little muscle injury from more or less out of nothing,” said Tuchel. “He felt his hamstring, I was very sad for him, and also we don’t have so many experienced players when it comes to the Champions League.
“I think he is for sure out for the game against City as well, so it’s a big loss. So we did it also for him today. And it was clear we had to use N’Golo, we took the situation and put him on the field and hope he can have the energy for 90 minutes.
“N’Golo is incredible, he’s like two players. Everybody who sees him for the first time loves him. All my family love him when they watch our games now. It’s just so nice to have him. When he wins so many balls he gives everybody confidence. I was not sure if we would have started N’Golo if we had everyone available. But now it’s time to recover and we’ll see how we go.”
Chelsea will now face either Real Madrid or Liverpool in their first Champions League semi-final since 2014.
The Blues always had the upper hand in Tuesday’s second leg, after last week’s 2-0 victory thanks to goals from Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell. Porto snatched a goal in second-half added time but never truly threated to turn the tie on its head.
Tuchel knows Chelsea won no points for style in Seville but made no apologies for his players’ hard graft that yielded major dividend.
“It’s a part of performance not to let your opponent perform, this is what they do and this is what we do also,” said Tuchel. “It was a day to hang in there, to show all the effort, intensity, all the team spirit that was needed. If you don’t have the experience, if you have a young team, then it’s the time to keep the momentum and be together.
“I’m very happy because it was a very tough fight. There was a lot of work to do where you don’t get the praise. There is nobody here to clap you for a tackle so a lot of hard work in secret was done, and that’s why I’m very, very happy.”
Several Chelsea and Porto players clashed at the final whistle but Tuchel downplayed any incident.
“It was just a little argument with me and their coach, and everybody was following me suddenly,” said Tuchel. “I thought it was between me and the coach, but obviously it was not so. But no harm done there.”
Porto boss Sergio Conceicao insisted he reacted to words from Chelsea’s coaches.
“I don’t know about the reaction, I couldn’t quite understand what he said,” said Conceicao of Tuchel. “There were some insults, it happened, it was not nice and that’s why I was irritated and was worried about my players. Our defensive performance was wonderful. We limited them as much as we could and we tried to score goals.
“We were superior in both matches but we lacked that bit of efficiency. I’m proud of our efforts in the competition overall but obviously not happy, because we have lost.”
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